Jeddah port plans must address access

25 September 2009

New capacity at port can only function properly if it is matched by land-side transport links

That Jeddah Islamic Port should be planning its expansion over the next decade to include a new fourth terminal is no surprise. The main marine gateway to the largest economy in the region needs to stay ahead of the game. Cargo volumes are projected to soar in the coming years as Saudi Arabia’s young population imports consumer goods in ever-greater quantities.

Moreover, Jeddah needs to stay competitive as rival sites open across the Middle East. Currently the second-largest port in the region and the biggest in the Red Sea, with a new third terminal opening within weeks, Jeddah intends to hang on to its position in the regional hierarchy.

For a fourth terminal to be a success, however, Jeddah needs to address the chronic traffic congestion that has damaged the port’s reputation over the past two years. One of the few major regional ports not to have followed the Dubai model and moved out of town to allow space for land-side transport links, Jeddah port is now hemmed in by the city.

Access to the site is severely limited and the Saudi Landbridge rail link has stalled. Vessels are waiting up to a month to load or unload during peak season. Many have taken to ignoring Jeddah altogether.

A new port at King Abdullah Economic City, just up the coast at Rabigh, is threatening to move in on Jeddah’s captive market. Designed from scratch, the new port can avoid many of Jeddah’s faults.

A port does not exist and operate in isolation. New capacity at the docks can only function properly if it is matched by transport links to the site to keep freight moving. Jeddah still has a vital role in the Saudi economy, but if the city’s land transport problems are not rectified first, any further expansion of the port will be money wasted.

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